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Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

Ottawa, Canada
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Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

Quality - There is a definite difference between the Western and Tanzanian concept of quality. For example, toilets. While in Arusha yesterday, we had lunch and then had to find the facilities. There was one attached to the restaurant, which was around the corner, through a hobbit sized door in the large steel car doors and behind the kitchen. We were travelling with one of my women's group members. She had checked it out first and when asked, said “Oh yes, it is good”. Well, her idea of good and mine, are not the same. There was water for flushing and it seemed clean, but there was enough odor to clear the sinuses and wish that the entire business took less time than it does. And then there are the buses. For whatever reason, my stumbling block on this trip has always been getting to Arusha. I knew enough about the dangers of the route, and the hassles at the bus station to not want to do it alone so I was happy to be doing this with 2 other people. I had my hot pink Post it note with the bus lines to avoid and the “good” bus lines. However, Aisha's idea of good and mine, are again, poles apart. Dar Express or the other Mzungu “good” lines don't leave from the main Moshi bus station. I asked for a Mzungu bus and the other woman asked for a “good” bus. Aisha's concept of a “good” bus is a big bus (rather than daladala or a midsized bus they have here). The one to Arusha wasn't so bad, but it still had drop down seats in the central aisle so you sit 5 across, but the seats are so narrow, that 2 sitting in the regular seats are very close together, and when the drop seat is up, you can really only get one and a half bottoms in the seats. Then there is standing room only. It is really like a glorified daladala but the money man is a little more relaxed. Coming back, we experienced the nightmare ride that is always recommended to avoid on this forum. A flycatcher jumped into the daladala we were in and tried to convince us to go with his bus. It was Coaster, and I said “no way – no Coaster”. However, the one we got couldn't have been much better. The driver was sitting in the seat and let go the clutch so the bus hit the bus in front. Didn't faze anyone particularly Aisha. My companion and I started looking for the seat belts. Thank goodness there were some. While waiting for the departure time, the goods hawkers were working the open windows. If you ever have the whim of buying razors (that could be used for torture), cheap perfume, cheap ugly jewelry, buns, bread, gum, hair combs, or underpants while sitting in the intercity buses – you can do it all here. When we finally left, there was traffic congestion getting out of town, which the driver didn't like – so he would honk, try to pass, took the “sleeping policemen” (speed bumps) at a fast enough speed to test the car springs and our back flexibility. Then someone needed to be ousted from the bus and he made sure we all knew he wasn't happy. Stop here; Usa River, stop there; Boma Ngombe, oh, there's a little space in the aisle now, let's roust up some more business. Then, it being Friday evening, the local youth are coming into town to party. Not a savoury looking group. The worst daladala was never as nervewracking as this bus. No quality in that experience.

My project is a woman's group who sew purses, bags, do paper bead jewelry and have other sewing items. We have been working on sewing and finish quality for an overseas market and I have been teaching them many skills for making their items better, and the most recent introduction – an iron. There are electric irons sold here, but only one of the women had ever used an iron and that was one heated by coal. So we source the iron and there is a choice of 2 charcoal irons. I eliminate one pretty quickly and then the other one – more expensive at 12000 Tsh or $8US dollars – looks like it will do the job. The clerk brings out 2. One has a better faceplate, but it is made in India of cast metal parts. The overflow metal at the seams have not been removed so he grabs a file and starts filing down the slag so that the bolt for the handle fits into the body. Then the lever and knob for closing the charcoal chamber is too loose. We try the other body. Eventually, after 20 minutes of changing handles, filing slag, trying new screws; we have an iron that is useable. TIA. Thread is cheap, scissors are cheap, the two new sewing machines that were purchased when others were stolen have already been repaired in their first week.

Tanzanians prefer to buy used North American clothing rather than new, as the new clothes come from China and the used clothing are better quality. There are Nike, UPS, Kmart Service Department, Tim Horton's Camp Day shirts – any colour or logo – being worn here. Strangely enough, for a country that still tries to dress well; where the women continue to wear a kanga over pants (feminine culture over practicality); they don't ever repair their clothing. Every school sweater has runs in them and many seams are open, buttons missing and zips malfunctioning. I don't know whether it is because there is an excess of used clothing and they can just buy more, but it is very strange to me how they can go around with such poorly maintained clothing – and this is exhibited by all status levels, not just the very poor and hard working. Supposedly, clothing was maintained in the past, but I put it down to the advent of the used clothing trade now available. There are still a lot of tailors/seamstresses around, but they make new, never repair.

Measure – How big is that ketange? Well, I hold one end in my left hand, stretch out that arm to the side and if it reaches my right collar bone, it's a metre long. Do that 4 times, it is a regular ketange. Sometimes it is almost 6 measures long.

If you have this great desire to weigh yourself, you can find some guys around the bus station who have scales on the sidewalk so you pay them a few Tsh and you can use their scales to learn your weight. I can tell you, no woman I know would be caught dead weighing themselves on the sidewalk of their town.

We want 4 kilos of sukari (sugar) at the Mbunyi Market. It is weighed onto a scale with those little varying sized weights to balance. 25 kilos of rice is scooped into a sack and hung onto a standard grocery-type scale. No digital scales and scanners here in Moshi.

You want a Tanzanian style dress made so you go to the seamstress (who call themselves “fundi” or “tailor” regardless of gender) stand there in your regular street clothes. They measure you up with your ease included and this is on the sidewalk for all to see. You try not to look as she enters the numbers into her work book. Centimetres are not kind to a woman's psyche.

A Tz acquaintance related the story of the measure mentality at the gas station. On several occasions he has witnessed people rocking their vehicle from side to side after adding petrol. When asked, they say they want to get some more litres into it so they are shaking it down. Now, we know that sometimes works for dry measures, but I have never been able to force any more liquid into a receptacle after it is “full”. We were heartily entertained.

Isle of Man, United...
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1. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

An everyday story of African Life. I am loving this as it brings back memories.

One or two comments/observations if I may?

"Good" or "not good" are always subjective as seen by the commentator. What some folk pass as "good" would send a lot of folks screaming up the street.

Low tech things work well in Africa as they remain within the ability of your average handy chap to fix and don't use batteries and Led etc.,

I remember one car having its "big end" bearings fixed with a beaten piece from from a food tin. I have seen wheel nuts welded in place because the threads were gone. But the thing got you home!

And yes, the over supply of Oxfam parcels has wrecked the clothing trade.

(coupled with a general ethos to look designer scruffy like westerners.)

Not so long ago there were Scales in British High streets for weighing yourself. That was quite public. (We kids had fun by putting our foot on the pad behind some old lady and upping the reading!!)

Nowt wrong with having your measurements taken in the street. Happens every market day here.

Finally shaking the car does actually make "more room" in the tank for extra fuel as it removes airlocks in the pipes and baffles. Try it at home when the auto shut off clicks at the Pumps. Wait a minute and re-commence filling.

Gotta stop now or my reply will be longer than your excellent post.

Keep it coming and more important keep smiling!

Ottawa, Canada
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2. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

Well, I appreciate the further knowledge. Who would have thought that shaking the car was more than just looking like a fool? I always am impressed with the way they make things out of nothing. Mechanicsville via the daladala is always an enlightening route.

Minneapolis...
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3. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

thanks for another message reminding me why I love to travel... the predictable is comfortable, but differences are the spice of life.

We visited a guy in Mugumu who had invented a way to cut sections out of old truck tires and turn them into replacement shock absorbers for vehicles and assorted part replacements. Great cleverness stemming from an oversupply of a waste product.

Curious about not repairing rips and buttons... No matter how cheap a used sweater is, it must be more than a few inches of thread...

We met several men in Arusha who wouldn't even think of going out with a rip or a loose button. I suspect they were "middle class" as opposed to folks doing more manual labor.

I wish I'd sent you a St. Christopher's medal to carry. He's the patron saint of travelers - and bus drivers! Some years back, the Church took Christopher off the list of official saints as there is not enough historical evidence to demonstrate he was a real person rather than a folk tale. I figure any saint who can get himself kicked out of the club is a good choice, so we have identified him as the official patron saint of Idiots. May he watch over you!

Bristol
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4. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

My brother in law made the same observation about clothing whilst working in Kenya several years ago. He also said that the ready supply of donated used clothes from The West had completely killed the local clothing trade. So whilst this helps some people it deprives others of making a living. i think we need to think very carefully sometimes about the full implications of the things that we do, however well meaning.

Bristol
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5. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

PS - Meant to say thanks QM for another great piece on your experiences.

Isle of Man, United...
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6. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

I shall make a point of buying or stealing a St Christopher first thing when the shops open tomorrow. Anybody who gets kicked out of church (like i did) has got to be a kindred spirit.

I am not quite an Idiot abroad but I can see the attraction.

Happy Sunday.

Findlay, Ohio
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for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
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7. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

There are actually good reasons for shaking a vehicle while it is being fueled, other then being an amusement for tourists. There are baffles in diesel fuel tanks to prevent the fuel from sloshing about, and this shaking distributes the fuel into all the baffles. We don't worry about that all that much; but we have filling stations on every corner; they don't.

Saint Paul...
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8. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

Nice description, QM. Public transport... For my first 6 months in Tanzania, I dreaded the thought of getting on a daladala or bus. It could even be much worse than what you just described. Overcrowded, hot, uncomfortable, speeding, blaring distorted music, etc. But one day, I saw a guy standing at the bus door as the bus was moving swiftly down the road. The bus was so full that he could really only get half his body in. Half of him was out in the wind. So he started dancing and just enjoyed the moment. I could see that his approach to the situation was infinitely better than mine. So while one never caught me actually dancing in a bus, from that day forward I learned to enjoy the cacophony of sights, smells and sounds. I would think good things, instead of bad. I did that for the next 18 months, and that was much easier. Back in the US, I found the Greyhound rides between DC and NYC extremely boring.

As for the clothing, I know plenty of people that will repair their clothing. Also, if you see some people wearing ragged clothes it may not be an option for them. But it may. Meaning: their activities for that particular day did not warrant their best clothing. Frankly, Tanzanians would often ask me why tourists wear such shabby and dirty clothing all the time in their country. To them, it's obvious that tourists have a choice and the ability to wear nice clothing, yet they often choose not to. And if you look around in Tanzania and compare what the Tanzanians are wearing to what the foreigners are wearing you would likely be surprised to note that the Tanzanians, generally speaking, are dressed more formally than the foreigners. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally, that's the rule. I realize that you are talking about the repair and condition of the clothing, which is different from formality of the clothing. Just making a point.

And to the point of shaking the car - or let's call it ingenuity, I've told this story before but it still amazes me: One day, I was in a daladala and a spring snapped. They fixed it with a strip of rubber wrapped around a piece of iron, leveraged in such a way, that the rubber strip actually held the weight of a pickup truck filled with people. I couldn't believe it. In fact, I was in such doubt that when I saw their solution, I told people not to even bother getting back on the truck because our weight would overwhelm the solution. Well, everyone got back on the truck (myself included) and drove all the way back to the village without incident. I was amazed.

That actually brings up another point: Tanzanians are extremely practical. They are most interested in practical solutions to problems. To them, the real problem is getting to a destination, not the comfort of that trip. As long as the ultimate goal is reached, then the trip was a success.

9. Re: Quality and measures - Tanzania Style

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